This week I have been

Reading

The 2011 Tour de France race guide.

Watching

An Idiot Abroad

Listening to

The xx

Discovering

(Or rediscovering) Hamlet - Nicki Greenberg's beautiful new version, thanks to the fabulous Snarkattack, who invited me along to see Nicki talk about the creative process behind the book.

Eating

  • An enormous serve of bangers'n'mash and a nourishing pint of Kilkenny at the Town Hall one dismal Tuesday evening.
  • A "Chachi" - chianina meatball sandwich - another brioche donut and some amazing chocolate tart at Beatrix, which Essjay has reviewed.
  • A lazy Sunday lunch at The Crimean. The Polish hunter's stew (bigos) was just the thing to revive me after a chilly bike ride.
  • Generous piles of fried food with oodles of chillies and sichuan peppercorns at Sichuan House
  • Succulent suckling pig at Liberteene.
  • An array of bright, zesty flavours at Chin Chin, where the only problem was having to choose only some of the items from what looks to be a menu that is all hits, no filler.

Links

Escaping the tyranny of Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day as a thing seems to be gathering momentum. Restaurants offer set menus, TV stations adjust their programming to appeal to all the lovers out there and any rom-com worth it’s salt seems to schedule a February 14th premiere.

If you’re heartily sick of the sight of overpriced stuffed toys with tacky red satin hearts, perhaps you should settle down with a non-rom-com on the day.  Here are some ideas – let me know if you have any other suggestions:

  • Nom-com – Tampopo
  • Vom-com – Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life (just for the Mr Creosote sketch)
  • Bomb-com – based on Jim Schembri’s review, I guess that would have to be A Few Best Men
  • Dom-com – Exit to Eden (haven’t actually seen this one either, but the wiki page suggests there might be some BDSM…)
  • Pom-com – Well, I’m going to go with Withnail and I for this, but there are so many options for non-romantic English comedies
  • Prom-com – Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion
  • Somm-com – Sideways

 

 

Films to watch on a hot summer day

It’s hot.

Dayum hot.

The kind of heat where you look at the running time of a movie to decide whether it’s worth your money.

The kind of day where Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol seems like a wise investment.

Then you leave the cinema. You spend as long as you can in a bar, but – sooner or later – you have to come home. And you want to watch some chilly movies.

Here are some tips:

  • Fargo
  • The Ice Storm
  • The Mighty Ducks
  • Touching the Void
  • Dolls, by Takeshi Kitano
  • When Harry Met Sally
  • Edward Scissorhands
  • Twin Peaks
  • Sarah Palin’s Alaska (only for the strong of stomach)
  • Snow Falling on Cedars, Cold Mountain and Dr Zhivago (thanks Courtney)
  • The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (the aptly named MrsInferno)
  • The Shining (MisterrGJones)
  • Mystery, Alaska (KelHunter)
  • The Empire Strikes Back, A Simple Plan and The Mighty Boosh Season One (Kirsty)
  • The Thing, Aliens vs Predator, Life in the Freezer, The Road (Dana) (David also recommended A vs P) ( the Road also rec’d by Paul)
  • Let The Right One In, Reykjavic 101, Forbrydelsen S1 and 2  (Yemayasverse)
  • Polar Express, Shackleton, Waterworld, Ice Age (all of them)  and all of Game of Thrones as well as the delightful Northern Exposure (Essjay)
  • The Big Chill (65 Degrees)
  • In Bruges (Michelle Griffin)
  • Happy Feet, Cliffhanger, March of the Penguins, Misery, anything by Warren Miller and Groundhog Day. Also Ice Road Truckers and Deadliest Catch. (Pete)
  • The Day After Tomorrow, Alive (Ben Knight)
  • 30 Days of Night. I’ve also been informed that there is a SyFy version of Alive. WITH YETIS! (thanks, FranDowdSofa)
  • Ice Station Zebra, King Lear, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (Rusty)
  • Happy Feet II (The Brewer’s Wife)
  • Cool Runnings (Tummy Rumbles)
  • How I Ended This Summer (David)
  • Die Another Day (FarmersMarketsFan)
  • Ice Cold In Alex (Chris)
  • Youngblood (Phil)
  • Stalingrad (Dave)
Share other movies to cool down by in the comments. And be quick! We’re frying here!

Haeundae

Sure, you can outrun a tsunami...

Disaster movies follow a certain formula. There is the perfunctory introduction of characters who are written in broad strokes to make it easy for the audience to identify the heroes, the survivors and the doomed. Amongst these will be a family man, spurred onto heroic deeds by a limited imagination that reduces an existential threat to humanity as an imminent threat to his own loved ones. His family has usually already been torn apart by his own lack of attention to it; it’s as though he don’t know what he’s got til it’s gone (and even fails to notice that it’s gone). There’s a expert of some sort who provides exposition as to the nature and potential destructiveness of the looming disaster with some pseudo-scientific jargon that rarely seems plausible. Comic relief usually comes in the form of a bumbling character who always seems to survive in spite of making some fairly risky choices (to say their survival is against the odds is not just cliche, but a redundancy – everything in these films is against the odds).

Plot exposition is as superficial as the introduction of characters, and these two facets are rarely integrated. Disaster movie scripts zoom through this phase because – let’s face it – we’re paying for the destruction, not the human insight. That’s what makes disaster flicks such good big-screen-bucket-of-popcorn viewing. On DVD, they are the kinds of films you can happily rent for a Sunday night, knowing that you won’t be agonising over the meaning at work the next day.

Continue reading Haeundae

2010/2009: Looking forward/looking back

At my advanced age – seriously, a younger colleague recently recounted being told that she was middle aged – the years bring less that is novel.  Still, 2009 brought some new experiences, as well as some developments that will hopefully fade into obscurity.

Government

2009 proved that I still have some remnants of idealism that haven’t been lost in middle-aged cynicism, in that I was surprised to find myself disappointed by governments and their poll-driven pandering. Governments increasingly do what people want, rather than what’s necessary; follow rather than lead. Unfortunately what they are following is usually sentiment that’s been drummed up by PR manipulated mainstream media. 2010 promises more of the same. The first news story I read this year revealed the massive US aid package to Israel (with a substantial percentage earmarked for Israel to spend on US made military hardware) with additional funding to the Palestinian Authority to train security forces. Sounded a lot like profiting from continued instabiity to me.

Social Media

2009 was the end of Facebook for me. I quit it early in the year and found that my life was none the poorer for missing out on endless status updates of people I’d added only because it seemed churlish to keep them out. I managed to get through my year, despite not knowing which Brady Bunch character I was, which Thomas Pynchon novel I was, which Kanye remix I was, which Michael Bay special effect I was. If I’d ever had any regrets about not having a Facebook account, they disappeared over Christmas lunch, when my cousin’s teenage boy expressed shock that I wasn’t “on” Facebook: “Even Grandpa’s on it!”. Exactly.

On the other hand, Twitter came into its own. I’d joined up – in my real name – in 2008 but hadn’t really used it. In 2009 I set up my current Twitter account and started adding some of the “big names” (few of whom have survived into my 2010 list) and a couple of people whose blogs I’d been following. Where my Facebook circle was limited to people I knew, my Twitter circle had (until recently) no people I’d actually met. Our common interests (largely food, film and TV) kept the conversation going and, mostly, interesting.

Travel

We started the year off revisiting old haunts in Malaysia and tried something new in September with our first trip to China. I rely on having a trip to look forward to, but have realised that this approach is seriously flawed. Having already booked flights for our 2010/2011 holiday (South Africa via Hong Kong), I am now wishing away a year that has barely started.

Food

Both overseas trips were dominated by food.  That was a motivating factor for going back to Malaysia, however the variety and quality of the food in China was a revelation.  Locally, Cutler and Co made a big splash when it opened and I’m glad that 2010 is starting with another visit.  Libertine continued to be the best local restaurant a person could possibly want, Hutong’s XLB are getting better the more distant the memory of Shanghai’s dumplings get, and my obsession with Gingerboy’s son-in-law eggs is nearly out of control.

On the home front, Fuschia Dunlop’s books dominated domestic output in 2009 and I don’t really see that changing in 2010.  The most frequently cooked recipe, though, goes to Frank Camorra’s simple but delicious Wet Rice with Chicken from the Mo Vida cookbook.

As for reading about food, newspapers have given way to blogs.  Blogs helped us plot our way around KL and Penang, gave us tips for China and keep us inspired to try new things at home.  On the other hand, The Age’s once dispensible Epicure section became even more pointless with the recent departure of Matt Preston.  His column kept me reading this year despite the weekly torture of Larissa Dubecki’s reviews, although she provided me with a fair bit of ranting material for this blog, so perhaps I should be grateful.

Work

For the past three of four years, I’ve felt as though I was starting anew with each new year. That gets tiring. 2009 was the first year that I didn’t have to build from scratch, which was not only refreshing but allowed me to explore some more interesting new approaches. 2010 should – hopefully – be more of the same, which is to say same, same, but different.

Television

2009 was the year of Foxtel. While we were in Malaysia, we had access to cable television and this made us feel as though our lives would be incomplete were we to miss the finale of the Iditarod: Toughest Race on Earth or the episode of Time Warp where a bullet was shot into a banana. As it happened, we didn’t watch any more of the sled dog race when we got home and the novelty of things in super slow motion wore off quickly – there’s no cutting to the chase when slowing things down is the raison d’être of the show. We did, however, become seduced by Andrew Zimmern as he travelled around the world eating Bizarre Foods and developed something of a dependency on a weekly dose of Anthony Bourdain. Plus there was the real Masterchef in various iterations (an amazing Professional version, and a Celeb version that left the Australian one in the shade), Top Models from a number of countries and wannabe designers of clothes and interiors. On slow days, Yes Minister and even The Goodies kept the tele on.

The really big events of the year, though, were the finale of Battlestar Galactica, the penultimate season of Lost and the debut of Masterchef Australia. With BSG over, 2010 sees the debut of the related series Caprica, which could either be a triumph or a let-down. Lost starts in late January in the States and Channel Seven is advertising it already, although the ads give no hint as to whether it will be “fast tracked”. The second season of MCA is being filmed now – will it be as successful as the first?

Reading

I started the year really well, reading a number of books in a relatively short time during our Malaysia holiday.  This just proved that the adage “start as you intend to continue” doesn’t mean that momentum will carry you through, as my reading fell off sharply once holidays were over (quite possibly because of the above).  As the backlog of unopened New Yorkers piled up, I considered cancelling my subscription and admitting that I was no longer a reader.  The Infinite Summer reading challenge got me back to print, and then the 100 must reads inspired me to “read a list”.  That is, until I got halfway through Lord of the Flies and stopped.  This year I intend to read more.  At least one book a month.  That should be achievable, unless I decide to pick up Gravity’s Rainbow again.

Movies

For the second year in a row we missed the Melbourne International Film Festival and we didn’t find much that gave us the energy to get to the cinema during the year. In addition, our last easy-walking-distance local video shop closed, so if we missed something at the cinema, it was gone (unless we could think of another way of seeing it… hmmm). Amongst the enjoyable were District 9, Inglorious Basterds (50% really good, 50% mediocre), Star Trek, Avatar, Coraline, Julie and Julia (possibly only because Meryl Streep was so amazing), In the Loop and Up. We have just signed up at the nearest video rental place, so will hopefully catch up on some of what we’ve missed.

Music

First, the good stuff from 2009. Neko Case’s Middle Cyclone is lovely and my first gig for 2010 will be seeing her at the Hifi. Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavillion gets a lot of iPod time, as does Grizzly Bear’s Veckatimest. Thanks to iTunes making it easy to download songs, I have spruced up my workout playlist a bit (Daft Punk has exactly the right BPM for cardio, but gets a bit tired after years of repetition), but they are songs I dread coming up when the iPod is shuffling away on the dock during a dinner party.

The bad stuff is largely a result of having Foxtel. It’s easy to put the TV onto Max, V, Vh1 or V Hits and that often forms the soundtrack for the weekend (during the week, the Food channel tends to be the background noise). This means that I hear more “new” music than I am used to being exposed to, but it also means that I suffer through a lot of crap. Approximately 90% of the music videos also bring me pain, for a couple of reasons.

  • Pants or, more precisely, a lack thereof.  Beyonce, Rihanna and Lady Gaga, I’m looking at you.  Actually, I’m looking at more of you than I particularly care to, video after video.  Put on some pants, or look into frocks.  Thanks.
  • I’d also like to see the death of relentlessly porny clips.  I’m well aware of the fact that I can – and do – turn off the TV, but that’s beside the point.  As is Shakira in a flesh coloured body suit performing stripper moves in a cage.  Or Britney hanging off a bar in a skimpy white leotard humping a crew of dancers.  Just stop.
  • David Guetta. He crops up in collaboration with a number of singers and he could well be responsible for writing the songs, producing them, orchestrating them… whatever. I don’t care enough even to google him. The reasons I wish he’d disappear is because the music is boring and his contribution to the videos is to stand in the background looking like a Scandinavian serial killer. Creepy.

Oh, thought I’d finished ranting about music related things, but… auto-tune.  I hate it.  If a singer needs a producer to get them on key, they’re not a singer.  If it were a case of nudging the occasional bum note, or if it were being used as a deliberate effect, I might feel differently.  As it is, it’s being deployed so aggressively that a lot of new music sounds soul-less and robotic.

= = = = = = =

Have I made any resolutions?  No, that would be setting myself up for failure!  Along with reading more frequently, I plan to

  • get back on the bike in an attempt to regain some semblance of fitness
  • establish a more interesting week-day cooking repertoire
  • attend at least ten MIFF sessions
  • open the New Yorker as soon as it arrives, and abandon the idea that I have to read every article before moving onto the next issue

And, inspired by Daniel, I’m instituting mono-tasking January.  One thing at a time!

On the big screen: 2012

It’s bad form to go to a film hoping that it’s going to be a BDM (big, dumb movie) and then complain about its dumbness, but that’s what I’m about to do.

At the sparsely attended Sunday afternoon session of 2012 I whooped and cackled for most of the film’s 158 minutes.  Expendable characters were easily identified and expired on cue.  Heroes and those close to them survived. Relationships foundered or flourished with little dramatic effect; again, the results were utterly predictable.  John Cusack was every man’s everyman.  Tom McCarthy overcame the stigma of having been the despicable Scott Templeton in the final season of The Wire.  Woody Harrelson earned the Woody Harrelson welcomeTM that was so wrong for his No Country For Old Men character1.

And, of course, landmarks were destroyed, cities were razed and landscapes obliterated.  Just as advertised.

So, what’s my beef?

Well, partly it’s guilt.  I enjoyed the spectacle of demolition, but I wasn’t entirely able to dissociate images of planes flying through cityscapes, tsunamis swamping populations and earthquakes shattering cities from the devastating real-life scenarios of recent years.  And that felt quite hollow immediately after the credits had rolled.

Partly it’s lazy script development: set Jackson up as the sacrifice-everything-to-save-the-world sort of guy, sure, but then let’s see him do something other than risk the lives of a whole arkful of people just to save his family.  Doesn’t gel.

The final part is that even in BDMs I think that film-makers should include at least one plot surprise.  Yes, I go to BDMs for a fairly mindless ride, and I expect predictable plot elements to be brought together.  Still, if every plot element is from choose-your-own-adventure, it’s just lazy film-making.  In the case of 2012, I can accept all the cliches – the first daughter getting together with the geologist; the fat-cat Russian not making it onto the plane, but his innocent kids surviving; the crazy conspiracy theorist; the heroics “for the sake of the children!” – except for the death of Gordon.  The film would have been so much better had Gordon survived.  And it would have gone some way to fleshing out the “Saint Jackson” claims.

I do acknowledge that moaning about the lack of intelligence in a dumb movie is about as clever as having a whinge about the nutritional value of a McHappy meal.  And I will say now that it’s highly likely that I’ll see Roland Emmerich’s next über-disaster-flick at the movies, because if there’s one thing worse than a disappointing BDM, it’s seeing it on the small screen.

= = = = = = = = = = = = =

1. The Woody Harrelson welcome is the reflexive guffaw an audience gives when a usually comic actor appears for the first time in a film. Particularly jarring when the actor is in an uncharacteristically evil or straight-man role. Can also be known as the Glen Robbins welcome after his turn in Lantana.

Alive in Joburg

When I first saw a poster for District 9, I’d heard nothing about it. The “Peter Jackson presents…” line looked as though it was a sneaky attempt to fool Peter Jackson fans, and I assumed that it was merely coincidental that the name was similar to Cape Town’s District 6. A little bit of investigation revealed that the name was not unintentional; plot summaries made it sound like it would be an embarrassingly clumsy allegory.

It’s not. The film has some weaknesses, but Ienjoyed it immensely (and Sharlto Copley’s performance as Wikus Van De Merwe is amazing). I’m hoping for a District 10 to follow…

The plot was first explored in the short film Alive in Joburg, which is here via Youtube:

It was thanks to Youtube that I discovered that Neill Blomkamp had directed the Citroen C4 transformer ad:

Just to continue the links, Moviefone‘s interview with Sharlto Copley led me to some of his other work, Hellweek and 2001: A Space Oddity.

MIFF Guide

The Melbourne International Film Festival starts on 21 July and the festival guide was published today.  Back in the days when I was temping, I’d buy a festival pass, take three weeks off work, and see as many films as I could get to.  I didn’t pore over the guide  – I chose films like I choose Melbourne Cup tips.  Names, colours, pedigree.  Getting between venues in those days required planning; the festival used The Astor in St Kilda, as well as city cinemas, so sometimes logistics dictated choice.  I saw some wonderful films, some tedious films, some puzzling films and some quirky films.  I saw films that I’ve since tried to hunt down in archives or online and films that I forgot almost instantly.

Continue reading MIFF Guide

"Prince Caspian", or "To Make a Short Story Long"

As a child, the books in the Narnia series were amongst my favourites.  Once I’d read them all, I re-read them regularly – apart from The Horse and His Boy, which I found too tangential to the Narnia I loved, and The Last Battle, which was depressing.  Usually, with much loved books, I dread the film adaptation, however the good work done on The Lord of the Rings gave me hope that The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe would continue that trend.  It didn’t, and I can’t really remember what I disliked about it as I only saw it once and have not been tempted to see it again.  Yet, despite the negative reviews of Prince Caspian, and the precedent set by TL,TW&TW, I was resolved to see the series through and so I spent 145 minutes of Saturday afternoon with the latest installment in The Chronicles of Narnia.

Continue reading "Prince Caspian", or "To Make a Short Story Long"